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Alpha Takes the Greenfield RouteFebruary 28, 2023 | Nolan Johnson, I-Connect007
Estimated reading time: 2 minutes
Alpha Circuit is a PCB fabricator located in Elmhurst, Illinois. Given that the launch of a new PCB fab is a rare occasion these days, we caught up with the senior team—Prashant Patel, president and CEO; Steve Smith, general manager; Steve Ryan, sales and direct support—guiding the buildout of Alpha Circuit’s brand new 44,000 square foot facility. They discuss what goes into equipment selection and line design, and the timing couldn’t have been better. At press time, the new facility was on schedule for test production by the end of January 2023.
Throughout the conversation, the Alpha team shared its methods for designing the facility, the parts of the fabrication process that are critical to get exactly right, and where the surprises were in the process.
Nolan Johnson: Gentlemen, welcome, and congratulations on your new facility. Let’s start with a little background about the company.
Steve Ryan: Alpha Circuit started in 1981, as a single- and double-sided board shop. Zenith was one of our big customers early on. We did a lot of punching and crunching back then and it is what really catapulted the revenue stream for us. When I joined the company in 2009, we were comfortably an eight to 12-layer multilayer and double-sided manufacturer. In 2013, we started doing flex and rigid-flex, increased our multilayers up to 28 layers, and started manufacturing copper-based pedestal-type design work.
Prashant Patel: When I acquired the company in 2020, my vision was to continue Alpha Circuit the way it was, while building a new facility to meet the higher technology demands. We purchased and renovated a 44,000 square foot facility, then ordered the equipment. It takes a long time to source equipment—you get the quotes, have it installed, and then get it running up to speed. That process has taken us over three years.
Steve Smith: I joined the company approximately two months ago. My background is HDI: stacked microvias, staggered microvias, along with high-speed digital materials, low-loss materials. I was hired to put the technology part of it together, getting the proper people and processes in place, so we can handle microelectronics down to 25-micron line and space and down to 3-mil pads.
Johnson: Great, thank you for that. Now, I want to talk today about your recent equipment purchases.
Smith: We have purchased a laser drill, and we have brand-new 200,000 RPM drill machines in place to do high aspect ratio holes. We also have a brand-new plating line with state-of-the-art chemistries to be able to do copper fill and through-hole plating in the same process along with being able to manufacture stacked vias starting with a 2-mil core substrate and stacking up to seven or eight lamination cycles.
To read this entire conversation, which appeared in the February 2023 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.
There has always been pressure to reduce line and space as we have seen the bleeding edge technology go from 8 mils to 5 mils and then to 3 mils. The difference between “then” and “now” is that the prior advancements, for the most part, used the same processes, chemistry and equipment going from 8 mils to 3 mils. But going from 3 mil to sub 1 mil trace and space is a quantum leap in printed circuit board (PCB) technology that requires a whole new set of processes and materials.
In a previous column, the critical process of desmear and its necessity to ensure a clean copper surface connection was presented. Now, my discussion will focus on obtaining a void-free and tightly adherent copper plating deposit on these surfaces. After the desmear process, the task is to insure a continuous, conductive, and void-free deposit on the via walls and capture pad. Today, there are several processes that can be utilized to render vias conductive.
Panasonic’s Darren Hitchcock spoke with the I-Connect007 Editorial Team on the complexities of moving toward ultra HDI manufacturing. As we learn in this conversation, the number of shifting constraints relative to traditional PCB fabrication is quite large and can sometimes conflict with each other.
MKS’ Atotech, a leading surface finishing brand of MKS Instruments, will participate in the upcoming IPCA Expo at Bangalore International Exhibition Centre (BIEC) and showcase its latest PCB manufacturing solutions from September 13 – 15.
Flexible circuit applications can be as basic as furnishing electrical interconnect between two conventional circuit board assemblies, or to prove a platform for placing and interconnecting electronic components. During the planning and pre-design phase of the flexible circuit, there will be several material and process related questions that need to be addressed. Most flexible circuit fabricators welcome the opportunity to discuss their customers’ flexible circuit objectives prior to beginning the actual design process.